This is Her House
by Jay S. Jacobs
In Paris – where Rue Melo was born – the word rue means road. Although it isn’t her given name (“Rue is actually a nickname that I grew up with,” she explains) somehow it totally fits her.
The 23-year-old singer has lived a bit of a gypsy existence, but in all the best ways. She was born in the City of Lights. Her father is a musician of Uruguayan descent. Leo Melo is a well-known singer and guitarist in Latin circles, with a diverse career that includes a stint with the popular 80s world music group the Gipsy Kings. Her mother was a French dancer who doted on her children. “My mama was an artist, some may say, she painted a smile upon my face,” Melo sings in tribute on the autobiographical tune “This is My House.”
By the time Rue Melo was ten, she was living in a totally different world, soaking up the funky vibes and street rhythms of the Bronx. At fifteen Melo’s world was relocated again, setting down in bustling Los Angeles, exposing her to new styles and fresh beats.
All of these worlds reveal themselves in Rue Melo’s music… and more. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French and sings in all three languages – sometimes more than one in the same song. Her songs feature hip-hop bounce, jazzy cadences, reggaetón toasting and traditional flamenco flourishes.
“I think [the diversity of musical viewpoints] has added in every way,” Melo exclaims. “When I moved to New York, there was definitely a big hip hop influence that came into play, as opposed to when I was living in France, it was a lot of Edith Piaf. My mom was really into Janis Joplin. My dad was with the Gipsy Kings. So being from all those different backgrounds, I came to love music in general. Period. There was no way I could pick one genre. Then in California, it was like No Doubt, Sublime… and I’m like, oh my God, what is this new kind of music I’ve never heard?”
Today the road has landed Melo in a cluttered sports bar in a Center City Philadelphia hotel. She is just off of the long road into town and looking for a quick, tasty lunch several hours before her first show in the city at the historic North Star Bar. Melo will end up getting a nice salad in a nearby restaurant on Rittenhouse Square – but first things first, she is here to talk about her self-titled debut CD, due to be released less than a week after this meeting.
Melo sits comfortably in a booth, not even noting the big screen TVs blaring the afternoon scores all around us. She occasionally takes a sip from a glass of water as she looks back on how she got to this particular crossroads in music.
“I was kind of born into it,” Melo says. “My dad is a musician. His whole family was musicians. It was just something I loved from the get.”
Family is obviously something that is very important to the young singer. Dad Leo worked on a few songs on the album, as did her brother Manny, who is also following in the familial footsteps: “My brother got into producing,” she says.
So, this artistic and musical temperament, it’s all a family affair? Does she feel that the love of music and performing gets passed down in the genes?
“Absolutely,” Melo says. “I think if it weren’t for that I’d be a lawyer or something.
Well the law’s loss is music’s gain. Melo’s music is a spicy seven-layer dip of sonic delights, a diverse and satisfying deep dish of tastes and textures. “Best of Me” is a lilting and lovely old-school ballad. “Enamorado” is very traditional sounding Latin music – sung in Spanish and French with acoustic instrumentation and telling a story of domestic violence. “Good Luck Daddy” has a reggaetón feel with its tongue-twisting lyrics and background male-vocal toasting. “Can’t Deny” is a snaky and seductive celebration of new love. “Hang On” is throw-down funky while “Check It” is more straight up street beat. “Fallen” is an acoustic-tinged love lament – which is available on the disk in three versions, in English, French (“Tomber”) and Spanish (“Cayendo”).
“I think for me, there are just so many styles of music that were involved in my growing up that I can’t make up my mind,” Melo says. “I just wanted to incorporate all of that into the album. It came about so naturally with everybody. I mean, working with my brother and my dad. My brother was the hip-hop influence. My dad was the Latin influence. Bernd Bergdorf [who has also worked with Pink and Tom Waits] who produced most of the album, he comes from a whole different kind of a background. A lot more pop. He comes from Europe, so there’s that whole thing that comes into play.”
The CD is being previewed with two different singles. “Check It” has been released to outlets like iTunes, complete with a funky and fun video. (Check it – yeah, I said check it – down at the bottom of the page.) The first widespread single is “This is My House,” which mixes autobiographical lyrics (“Once upon a time in ’84, under the sun I was born”) with a blissful hip-hop vibe and just a bit of a jazzy feel… (“Yeah, I’ve heard that,” Melo says. “A lot of people say that to me.”)
“‘Check It’ is more the digital single,” Melo says. “That’s something that we’ve already kind of put out there. And the video is amazing, so that was really easy. A no-brainer. ‘This Is My House’ is going to be more like our bigger single that we’re going to drop on everybody.”
“This is My House” is her life set to music, which makes one wonder – how many of her songs are autobiographical?
“All of them,” she states. “Except ‘Enamorada’ is one that I wanted to write about something that I’ve never experienced before, personally. I have seen other people go through it, but never really been on the inside. It was something that I felt like I really wanted to put myself in those shoes and put myself through that experience by doing that song. It was really interesting, actually. I remember that when we did the video, by the end of the day I felt like I was that girl that gets beat up by her boyfriend and still comes back to him. I just felt so emotionally drained. I felt so sorry for myself in a sense. I really took myself through that. But, I think it’s good.”
“Enamorado,” with its melding of Spanish and French lyrics, was a collaboration with her father. The languages in which she conveys the songs are often influenced by the music itself – though her life also comes to play in the decision as well.
“It definitely is a mix of the two,” Melo says. “With ‘Enamorada,’ there is definitely a huge Latin influence from the get with that song. My dad was in town, so I was speaking a lot of Spanish with him. It was something that came naturally to do that. You know with ‘Smooth Brotha’ [a new track which is not on the CD but is currently available to stream on Melo’s MySpace page] – I don’t know if you’ve heard that, it’s something we may add to the album later on down the line – but with that, we were in the studio and French was just in the atmosphere with that song. I felt like that was just something that really came out. It’s mostly very natural.”
That natural feel is very important to Melo. She is the main songwriter on the disk, handling all of the lyrics, but musically it is more of a group effort. Some are written by Rue alone. Some she did with her dad or her brother. Some with producer Bergdorf.
“It’s kind of collaborative,” Melo says. “As far as the lyrics, I do write all the lyrics. But, I’m one of those people who if somebody has a better idea for a lyric, I’m totally open to it. Musically, it depends on what song you’re talking about.”
That collaboration also extends to Melo’s exceptionally tight band, which is made up of guitarist Martin Estrada, bassist Bryan Bush (who has worked with John Legend and Stevie Wonder) and drummer Idris al-Mutazz Tate.
“It really came about very, very naturally,” Melo says of the genesis of her band. “I came in the office one day and they were sitting there. My management had found these guys because we were really started thinking about involving some live players. [They said], ‘these guys are really great. Tell me what you think about them.’ I walked in the room and instantly it was like; oh my God, these guys are it. I knew it. We played together and the first time we played – I had just met them, I couldn’t even remember their names yet – we came up with ‘Can’t Deny,’ which ended up being on the album. So, there was no way to deny the fact…”
The disk is released on the small label Fighter Records – but that imprint is part of Fontana Records, an important indie branch of the colossal Universal Music Group. Therefore, she has the best of both worlds – working with a small indie label that is coincidentally part of a huge conglomerate. Melo feels it’s a perfect fit for her.
“With that set up there is still a very personal relationship between the label and the artist,” Melo explains. “I think that’s the most important part. Really, even Fontana has been really personal with us, too. It’s very important to maintain that relationship to make sure that everything goes accordingly and everybody’s happy, you know?”
The music is working its way into the world and all the feedback has been positive. The ballad “Fallen” was even played in the background of a scene on the successful cable series The L-Word. It was the first time that Melo had heard her music outside of her own recordings – and a complete thrill.
“That was crazy,” Melo smiles. “It was insane. I was sitting there. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like I was watching TV, and someone just started playing ‘Fallen’ in the background in [my] home. I was like, wait, no it’s not playing. It’s on the TV. It’s actually on the episode. Snap out of it.”
But she did know that the song was going to be on, right?
“We did. We did get a heads up. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was still that feeling of like – you just can’t believe it. I just had to watch it literally five or six times before I said, yeah okay, it’s really on there…. It’s everything people say it is and nothing like anybody could ever describe.”
The buzz has also led Melo to the opportunity to open a recent tour for Los Lonely Boys – another Latin-based band which exploded with the smash hit single “Heaven” a couple of years ago.
“It was dope,” Melo says enthusiastically. “It was the dopest thing ever. Those guys are amazing. To see the reaction of their audience and their fans and to be up there…. They were so welcoming and so warm to us. And so good to us – the audience, the venues and also Los Lonely Boys. The best experience I could have had for my first support tour.”
With her CD now getting released, the question is will radio share the love and support? Radio playlists are notoriously fickle in a focus-group world and it’s not always easy to get the conglomerates to take a leap on an unproven performer. However, if that turns out to be the case, it is radio’s loss.
“I honestly don’t think it hurts the artist in getting a following,” Melo says. “I think more than anything it hurts the radio station more than the artist. The artist, if they have a song that is good for all kinds of music – if not that radio station, another radio station will play it if they know that the audience is there. By not playing them, it’s only the radio station that’s losing the audience.”
In the meantime, Melo is stoking the fires the old-fashioned newfangled way, spreading the word through live performances and the Internet. The web is a new venue for musicians to capture the world’s attention and she is doing her best to get herself and her music out on the cyber-radar. Melo has a new website, as well as a page on MySpace – an element of the music biz to which she is quickly becoming a bit addicted.
“I’m on that thing every night for at least an hour and a half to two hours.” Melo laughs. “I definitely agree with [the fact that it helps get the buzz going]. But, in more ways than that – I was looking at your website and a lot of the interviews we’re doing are Internet based. I love that, because it’s not just the one magazine at a magazine stand that will only be sold in certain cities. Anybody in the whole wide world can read it from their home.”
Melo isn’t just passively lurking either. She communicates with fans and friends and most anyone else that cares enough about her music to drop her a line.
“Absolutely, as much as I can,” she says. “Sometimes it gets so hectic it takes me a couple of days to sit down [and do it], but I always, always, always… It’s very important to me to keep in touch with people, to communicate with them and get their feedback. You have to. The reason why we’re here is because of them.”
It’s all about following whatever roads the world, music and life present itself to her. And Melo’s boots are made for walking – wherever she needs to go.
“I definitely want people to see me as a chameleon artist,” Melo says. “Someone that’s touched on every base. I plan on doing all kinds of music throughout my career and reaching out to all kinds of people. I think that’s mostly what I want to be remembered for – someone who has the ability to change themself without changing themself. Just kind of put on that costume to relate to that person, no matter who they are or where they are or what they are going through.”
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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 30, 2007.